Monday, 13 March 2017

Walk On...

Only 5 years ago did I make it here.

This weekend, I made it again this time with Caleb.

Always dreamt of bringing my boys here. What a moment it was too. From the fast walk from Newsham park as the route from Todmorden was ridden with traffic and motorway closures.

The nerves of not making it were overshadowed by the awe of seeing the first glimpse of the stadium during the 'match day' walk to the arena. A fast one at that.

Then comes the smell of all the merchandise and fast food as you fast approach the gates.

We arrived a day early at my oldest friend's house in Todmorden. We went on walks caught up on the passage of time. Laughed at the new titles, wives & girlfriends, jobs and children that we gained along the way.

During the morning two of us were swimming in a freezing reservoir. Caleb took to rolling down the hill. Covered in mud.

It was all worth it to be with the team that I've supported since Caleb's age with these people and with my boy... and secondary to see this team play against Burnley in this stadium. The score 2-1 to us. The score Caleb predicted too (I was less optimistic at 1-2 to them!)

Thank you anfield for a lovely moment that we will take to the end.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

"I hope your dad is ok"

Not the words I was expecting.

I was expecting a spouting of regulations, new policies and how they would love to help me "but..." from the man across the counter of South Eastern at London Bridge just now.

You see today I made a mistake. I got it wrong. This morning I was running for a train (at High Brooms) and I thought I could pay for the train ride on the train itself. I've done it before. No problem.

My reasoning for running to catch an earlier train: it would give me a vital extra few minutes to see my dad. He's in Guys Hospital. I knew it would cost me an extra £5. I thought it would be worth it.

On the train I found the lady to ask about paying. She said she'd come back to me. She did. She then said that she has to charge me the 'full' amount (£35, nearly double the price).


I was shocked. I asked for grace. She said the very best she could do was give me a single at the cheap day rate and then to go and ask at London Bridge excess fares to see if they would kindly extend the fare to a return trip. That was it and she apologised but that was some consolation for an expensive blunder. I knew this would cost me those vital extra 15 minutes with my dad. She said her hands were tied and already her machine's were giving her warnings about helping me out. She even flipped her pad to show me as she entered my ticket into her machine.

I thanked her and she gave me my ticket.

At London Bridge the excess fares kiosk was closed. I then ran to see my dad.

We had a full a lovely time. He was hooked up to a dialysis machine cleaning his blood. 4 weeks ago he was at death's door. This is nothing short of a miracle to see him alive and fighting for life. So thankful for these precious few minutes with my old man despite the nurse saying he looks younger than me (her reasoning he has more hair)!

I pray with him. Kiss his forehead and leave to catch my train. Thirty minutes was all I could do today. I wish it could be more.

Back at the station I walked in to the ticket office. Slightly nervous. There was a man and a woman. I chose the man to serve me and I start the request for just paying the excess for a fare rather than a whole new one.

The man listened as I explained the situation and rather than ask anything else about what to do he just looked up and said: "I hope your dad's ok."

Fighting back a tear I said he's doing much better. He wasn't to know that we nearly lost him. His continual refusal for dialysis until just weeks ago. The sheer pain of watching and waiting, waiting, waiting for Death's sythe to strike.

He continued: My step mum died in there. She missed a session. Couldn't make it. I'm sure they're doing a great job. Hope he's ok.

He then said it would be 10p more for the fare extension.

Thank you South Eastern for being so much more today than just a rail company.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Thanksgiving (5/3/17)

We are having a thanksgiving service for our boys. Please come if you can. You are very, very welcome.

Love, abcjre:)

Date: Sunday 5th March

Time: 10.30 (and after the service for tea and cake)

Where: St Johns Church Tunbridge Wells

Note: children very welcome to attend the various kids groups (all ages from: 0-14)

No dress code.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Thank you Obama

At the start of your Presidency I said the jury was out.

I'm grateful for all you did and stood for. I wish you had done more for Syria, gun crime and bridge between the empathy deficit that you spoke so much about.

But I'm grateful for your courage, conviction and leadership. Thank you President Obama.

You leave me with a message to my children: "Be Kind. Be Useful. Be Fearless"

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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Apple Juice in the making

Lovingly hand picked by the Solankys (and McLearons!). Although I, as the boys point out, was not there for the main picking session. (Thanks boys!)

Apples courtesy of Swingle Swangle farm.

Labels designed by all of us

... and printed by Fraser & Parsley.

The apples pressed and bottled by Owlets.

A great team, and community effort, to make these Apple Juices with barely any food miles either.

And most of all great fun :) xo

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Tonbridge,United Kingdom

Friday, 23 December 2016

Camber Christmas tradition

This year the annual trip to have a Christmas dip at Camber (only the second time) we had cousins going together. And chuck in a godson. A great team indeed!

... and what a day. It was glorious last year but glorious and peaceful today.

Water was surprisingly *not* as cold as I thought.

Saw a few horses. Had a hot chocolate. A hot dog (or two).

See you next year!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Newlands Road,Tunbridge Wells,United Kingdom

Thursday, 15 December 2016

My brothers

Star Wars was more than a movie. It was something that brought me and my brothers close together.

I always got "Lando" as my character as I was third and not the muscle or look in to choose first. Alwin was "Luke" and Andy "Han".

Still when they weren't looking...

Here we are just after watching Rogue One. An annual Solanky brother treat.

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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

"See through the eyes of a Refugee"

What struck me about the refugee experience at Humanity House in The Hague was not the empathy. It was the closterphobia and noise. The narrow corridors with doors at the end. It was something out of a Resident Evil video game. That creaking.

Then there were the voices from the radios. Behind the mountain of ring folders. It was the distinct lack of humans that struck me. I was in an experience of inhumanity.

I saw pictures of people. Faces. but I found i wasn't caring. I was just wanting to stick my head down and get through the ordeal. It wasn't bad. It was just a complete carnal feeling of survival through not engaging. Through switching off and become as close to the environment as possible.

I recall the haunting room of a small in between room where there was an ornate mantle piece with Candles and a stunning mirror. I loved looking into it and was thinking this must have been like the room Viktor Frankl describes when speaking with his father about leaving the country before he headed into the concentration camps specially designed for the Jewish people. It has a lovely carpet and a well lit ambiance.

The haunting thing was when I stared in the mirror long enough to realise that it was not staring back at me. I was not reflected. My humanity was not even in the room.

It's hard not to feel a fraud in such a moment. Especially on a day where I have been hearing non stop of "a genocide" within Aleppo.

War Crimes

The war crimes of the world are decidied in The Hague. They've prosecuted villains for heinous crimes.

A very international city that boasts a rich mix of countries.

Ironic that I'm here whilst witnessing a genocide in Aleppo. Reports flying in. All over social media.

Hard to make sense of it. All I find myself doing is remembering sitting by a memorial plaque in Mostar by the destroyed old bridge saying two haunting words: "Never Forget".

They eventually tried the Serbian leaders here.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Our friend Emma

We lost a friend. A supporter. A sister.

Emma died a few weeks ago. It was a secondary cancer. Took just months. And the world feels that much more lonelier now she has gone. I've written on death before but she is leaving a hole that seems to take me back through the years.

I have fond memories of her.

Being at the Higgs' household, where we both used to frequent as kids. She was Sarah's friend and James mine.

We also grew up in the same church. Her father used to drive me, my two brothers, mum & dad to church in the days before we had a car. I recall it was the days where you could all lil in the back even sit in the boot. He was one of the jolliest people that I ever knew. Smiley. Kind and Loving. The family always appeared to have something special about them.

In more recent years Emma & her husband Eric have been supporters of ours. They believed in our family mission. They enabled us to continue to do our service for the poor. We really could not do anything without them.

I taught Samuel briefly at St Johns church back whilst he was in year 2. A few months ago Columbus came to one of the slum simulations that we ran in Sevenoaks school.

I remember speaking with you whilst undergoing treatment for your cancer (the first time round) at a prayer evening where you were beaming of hope and healing as it had recently gone.

Then I heard that it had come back a few months ago. It was a deep time of prayer for us as we followed you to your final moments.

When I heard the fatal news I really wished that it wasn't true. I knew it was coming. I didn't want it to. I held out for hope of healing. Yet I knew it was coming.

Truth be told you made me realise that this could easily have been me or us. Not only were you like us, a parent of four children, you were also part of my generation and friend since childhood. And one day it really will be me, or Angie, that will be on death's doorstep. The thing that you have taught me however is not of death but life. I just hope between now and the day we eventually die we, too, will live bravely and courageously as you have done.

It's hard to say much more beyond an expression of really deep gratitude that sinks to the depths of my very being. You have inspired me and so many of us (and it seems like the list is endless) with your belief and strength.

Thanks Emma.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Railway Heeling

Spent the day on tiptoe.

On the train this morning. Rushing to meet my friend for a pre meeting planing session and my heel caught the lip of the floor between carriages. It fell off.

To all you readers: promise me you won't buy cheap shoes of eBay.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:The Arches Shopping,London,United Kingdom

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Reuben & Papa: In-tent-sive time

Reuben and I slept in a tent (thanks David & Margret for the donation!) last night in the garden.

We went in just before 9 last night had a cup of hot chocolate in the porch and a couple of rich tea biscuits then cuddled up to listen to a story.

We were wiped. One of the best nights sleep in ages despite the slight slope leading to being pressed against the end and then having a 7 year old pushing into me.

Such fun :)

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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Death's scythe

I've seen the proverbial.

A moment lasting a lifetime.

Seeing the slow motion impending peril descend upon you.

Many times have I had to intervene to stave off that scythe that hangs over you and your family when you dance with an encounter with death.

This time instinct kicked in when I heard the first spurting cough. That distinctive sound of a lodging of food in the oesophagus. The sound also indicated that it was an infant. I could hear the words starting to make sense: Ezra was choking.

Ezra is loving apples and crisps. But each are tough texture for him. It doesn't stop him trying for it either. He has a cute way of pursing his finger tips together with his thumb and then pressing each hand together. It's his was of asking how something.

The apple must have been Caleb or Reuben's. They were watching a TV programme. I was Utting on the other side of the room and intervention time was costly seconds away. I had already wasted a few processing and diagnosing the problem. Ezra was choking and I was still a few seconds away.

I jumped up and then I heard it. The hollow slam on the back. The mild choke. Tears streaming and the munching continuing. Only I hadn't made it across the room yet. I was only just off the mark.

The thump and intervention came from Caleb. Having diagnosed and quickly identified the response was there before me.

His embrace was also there for the unknowing infant who was asking again for more.

Death's scythe missed. Thank you Caleb for saving your brother's life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:London,United Kingdom

Getting into BBQs

Having our children all grow up together they now set out on a summer camp over the summer.

What better way to celebrate than with a BBQ.

It was great to have 4 families. 11 children. 8 adults. And even better to be sitting around eating, drinking, playing the ukulele and enjoying the moment.

Loving the al fresco season and thankful for these moments.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Strathblaine Road,London,United Kingdom

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Friday, 24 June 2016

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I was convinced we were going to stay in the EU this morning.

The headlines would be a triumphant we have voted remain. A jubilant European flag waving.

It was never an easy vote. I have been swayed by both sides and heard, read around the debate. I'm no expert but I've not taken this vote lightly either.

On the one hand my heart was pining for something different to the status quo, business as unusual, a gamble, a new way of doing things.

My head however, was saying that strength came in working even harder at peace and unity. (I was even sighing as I said these words in my head). These efforts are, as I am realising, not cheap. They cost dearly: energy, passion, continual door knocking, inviting and table conversations and the sheer money involved thinking surely there's someone who can pay for this and realising that there's no one but you to step up and fork out the cash, the time, the energy, the persuasion, the sleeplessness and drive to get out of bed yet again to do the same. The gains as well are often small and almost baby steps. No 'Big Bang for a Buck' more like a 'pindrop for an IOU for more money than you have in a noisy room'.

This is the price of peace. It's you.

You can't buy it off amazon.

Peace is not cheap. And peacemakers are selling their souls, bodies to be slaves to this idea. Whether it's in the office, the school, the streets, the Calais Jungle, or the slums of Kiberia or the corridors of the Governments and United Nations.

Their opposition is: doubt, despair, laughter at your expense, ridicule, jibes, shaming, slander.

Their allies: belief, hope, love, collaboration, community, courage.

All that keeps going round and round my head are the words "blessed are the peacemakers".

I'm upset by the vote this morning. The EU in itself is not so much the issue for me, nor is the fact that the outcome didn't represent my vote nor my voice. But what really gets me is that we gave in to the opponents of peacemaking and peace building and bought into their rhetoric. That makes me feel used and dirty.

But peace is something that this family believes in and we're willing to pay the price. We're not giving up because of this vote and all the rhetoric that comes with it. We still believe in those words "blessed are the peacemakers" and stand with those who strive for peace.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Newlands Road,Tunbridge Wells,United Kingdom

Sunday, 19 June 2016

If only

If only you didn't fall out
If only somehow your mum saved you
If only you were strong enough to fly

If only we didn't find you as we rushed out
If only we didn't stop our curious boy who saw you first
If only we remained oblivious of your diminishing existence as you lay breathing your last few breaths 

If only we knew exactly what you needed
If only we knew how to help you  
If only we could actually do something meaningful for you 

But it was your last breaths that we heard
But it was your body that we tried to warm
But it was only what we could do as life whisked us away for but an hour.

We did come back
You had breathed your last.
We did come back to see what more we could do
But there was nothing to do.
We did come back. But you were not alive. 

If only we could have seen you fly
If only we could have heard you sing 
If only you had survived 

Thursday, 16 June 2016


War is hell.

When it ends do you just pick up where you left from. Go back to the house you lived in. Buy coffee from the people who attacked you. It's a game changer. A world that is pulled away from beneath your feet leaving you alone, destitute and permanently amongst strangers.

The strength that remains turns towards survival. Clinging to the little that you already possess and the ones you travel with. Their safety become paramount.

This week a family I know prepare to reunite with a daughter, a sister next week.

They were separated in the aftermath of a cruel war that claimed a brother and son and a husband and father. Shortly after the mobs came for more. Violating. Stripping dignity from this family. Helpless. Alone. 

They are thrown out of their home. A battered mother and her four young children. A son and three girls. The youngest; a few years old. Their neighbours turning upon them. 

The war ends. 

Their lives are overturned. No going back. Spending the next few years in a slum like community. The peace keepers remain.

The mother is given an option to spare her youngest this life that ensnares them. The poverty is more than cruel. It's cold. It's hunger. It's hopeless. It's loneliness. It's boredom. It's powerlessness. It's welcoming the stares of pity. Salvation, however, is offered to spare her child.  To give her a future. To allow her the chance to grow up free from this place. The decision: to allow another to take the child and raise them.

An indecent proposal. 

Painfully and reluctantly she accepts under conditions to keep in touch. To allow a return and access to the daughter & sister. 

The family say goodbye. 

The deal doesn't work out. They are palmed off after. They misunderstood their terms and were misled. A family ripped apart once again. 

It's hard to find anything of hope in all of this. Sometimes it seems the only thing to do is to stop and just sit down with each other. No words. 

This week I've been asked to pray as well over a decade later this young girl, now a young lady, returns to her family.

One of the sisters said "Soon my dream will become reality and that's all thanks to God."

In our prayers.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Newlands Road,Tunbridge Wells,United Kingdom

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Turkey 6: what brings me here: bullets & empathy?

I'm here this week for the world's first Humanitarian summit assembled by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon.

He doesn't know me (though I have met him once before) but he has invited me, or our organisation, Empathy Action to be here.

Why? Because we showed some of his team what amazing people are doing to build from brokenness a livelihood. They are the UN and know this well. But I think we were able to speak not only to their heads but also to their hearts this time.

We were able to share our belief that everyone is a part of the solution to the broken planet we live on. It starts, however, with something very basic: caring, compassion and empathy. It starts with our hearts.

It's a different language but one that is so vital right now in an digital age that is somewhat industrialising the de-humanising process. A heart to heart conversation so to speak.

Here's a lovely video teaser that my colleague, and full time volunteer, made about Empathy Action at the #ShareHumanity conference:

More updates to come.

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Location:Tel Sokak,Katip Mustafa Çelebi,Turkey